Summer camp uses dance to teach students life skills

JONESBORO, Ga. (AP) — Of all the mantras Anai Espinoza and her fellow campers recite each morning at
AileyCamp, the eighth grader’s favorite is this: "I am in control."
"It makes me believe I have the power to choose the right thing," she said.
Anai is one of a thousand students in 10 states this summer attending AileyCamp, a free six-week program
for youngsters in financial need or with academic, social or family challenges.
AileyCamp was founded in 1989 in Kansas City, Missouri, by world-renowned dancer, choreographer and
director Alvin Ailey, who died later that year. In addition to teaching the students dance, the camp
introduces them to the visual arts, creative writing and other communications skills. It also teaches
them how to eat well, resolve conflicts and become leaders, according to a description of the program on
the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater website.
Atlanta Ballet’s Centre For Dance Education has admitted about 100 students to its camp each summer since
2014. About half of those have some exposure to dance, but very few have professional training, said
Atlanta AileyCamp director Diane Caroll Sales.
"The most important thing is to accept campers that are willing to dance — they want to dance —
because we are dancing most of the day," Sales said. "But the core of the program is personal
development."
The Atlanta camp ran this year from May 30 through July 5, concluding with a performance July 6 in the
city of Jonesboro, about 15 miles (24 kilometers) south of Atlanta. Sponsors covered the cost of dance
training and attire, breakfast and lunch, field trips and classes for creative communication and
personal development.
At the end of camp, Atlanta Ballet offers 10 students a full-tuition scholarship for a year of training,
which is eligible for renewal, Sales said. One scholarship covers $800-$2,300 worth of dance classes,
depending on the placement level.
Kameron Davis attended his first AileyCamp about 10 years ago, when he was in middle school, at The Fox
Theatre in Atlanta. He trained for three years after that with the Atlanta Ballet on a scholarship, and
later became a dance instructor. Davis said he doesn’t think his mother could have afforded dance
classes without the scholarship.
Kids at school teased Davis when he began dancing, but AileyCamp offered a safe haven and confidence
boost, he said. He said he enjoys giving back to the program by helping new campers build their
confidence.
"It’s an open door to finding new things, doing new things," Davis said. "When I got to
AileyCamp, it just reassured me that, ‘Hey, it’s OK. Everybody is different. You shouldn’t be judged by
what you do just because not a lot of people do it.’"